I may have jinxed us in my January 2021 column when I closed with writing, “Welcome, 2021! We’re ready for ya!” So, this year, I’m not going to say anything similar. “Why?” you might ask? Well, as prosecutor, I know that our office is better prepared and fully equipped to handle anything thrown at us, but 2021 was honestly a year that no one wants to repeat!
Delaware County, our home, and the fastest-growing county in the state, fell victim to the violence trickling up from Franklin County. Gun crimes and violence are on the rise. You only need to look at the Polaris area in 2021 to see that to be true. It began on March 3, 2021, when, like many of you, I gasped hearing of the shooting at our Polaris Mall. I held my breath, much like I imagine other prosecutors across the country have been lately, waiting to hear what happened when an intentional shooting takes place in a populated space. Luckily for us, no one was harmed during the incident on March 3. Yet, we were all reminded of just how thankful we should be for our men and women in law enforcement who ran towards danger that day to protect all of those at the mall and apprehend the bad guys.
Then, to our shock and horror again, there was another shooting at our mall just two weeks later on March 15, 2021. Now, fast forward 10 months. Three men responsible for these mall shootings are being prosecuted. One has already been sent to prison for 13-17 years after being found guilty of several felonies. After this verdict and sentence, another shooter plead guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing, and the last shooter (from the March 15 incident) is still pending in court. I never want to experience that horror and waiting again! I’m immensely proud of the response of law enforcement, our team of prosecutors, and specifically our special victim’s prosecutor, Cory. He handled these cases personally from the minute the call came in, and left no stone unturned when it came to collecting evidence to ensure the strongest sentence possible could be asked for after conviction.
Now, back up to June of 2021. On June 28, a man’s body was found in a tote on the shore of Alum Creek. Invariably, our Delaware County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives stopped at nothing to find this man’s killer, and he was arrested in just a few short days. Then, not even a month later, a child was senselessly shot and killed in Lewis Center. Are you starting to see now why I said 2021 was a year no one wants to repeat? Both of these homicides are still pending in court.
Even in these dark moments, I remain hopeful and confident that the best is yet to come. We saw many victories this year, including numerous jury and bench trials where we fought to uphold the rule of law. Another murderer, Justin Eastman, was found guilty after a trial and sent to prison for the rest of his life, without the chance of parole. We fought the parole board to keep a serial rapist behind bars just a little bit longer (and we succeeded!). We convicted numerous predators who sexually assaulted children. We fought to have juveniles prosecuted in adult court for their grown-up actions. We helped many of our civil clients wade new territory with funding opportunities from the federal government, and we hosted our bi-annual training for township officials just a few weeks ago.
We didn’t stop there though! We’ve also invested money seized from drug traffickers into community programs like the Schiffel Summer Safety Scholar reading program. We attended numerous community events like the Christmas parade, Unity Community Festival, Powell Trunk or Treat, and so many more. Additionally, we continued our support for law enforcement by investing in training for our county tactical unit, and we are in the process of purchasing (with drug forfeiture money) state-of-art forensic phone analysis equipment.
Sure, 2021 was full of challenges that no one wants, but if you are going to stare down the faces of mall shooters and murderers, you want the team at our office leading the way! I’m humbled by the public servants in our office who serve tirelessly for our community. Those who wade through the unthinkable with victims and see and hear things we will never forget. I am proud of every single member of the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, and I’d walk through fire, first, for any one of them.
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.